Neha Patel, CLS’18

On March 21, 2017, the U.S. and U.K. announced a widespread ban of certain electronic items on board flights arriving from many Middle East and North African countries. This ban meant that laptops, tablets, portable DVD players, video game devices, and other electronic devices larger than cell phones would have to be checked in to luggage rather than be allowed on board. The 10 international airports covered by the U.S. ban include, but are not limited to, major cities in Dubai, Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. The U.K. ban covers both domestic and international flights from most of the Muslim-majority countries affected by the U.S. ban, in addition to Tunisia and Lebanon, on fourteen different airlines. [Sources: CNN News, Washington Post, Wired]

The ban is motivated by concerns about terrorism, although senior officials have admitted that there are no specific plots that they are aware of in the near future. They are reporting general concerns about fear that the Islamic State is developing a bomb that can be hidden in electronic devices and make it past security without detection. According to their intel, these bombs are specifically hidden in laptop batteries. The past few years have shown a wide range of terrorist attacks on transportation hubs across the globe, including the more recent Brussels, Istanbul, and London attacks. This ban was initiated with the hope of preventing any future attacks with potential new weapons that have been created by extremist groups. Other scholars and professors have speculated that the ban may be targeting airline staff rather than passengers, that it may have more to do with economic protectionism than national security, or that it is an extension of President Trump’s executive order ban against Muslim-majority countries. [Sources: New York Times, Deutsche Welle]

These bans have significantly affected popular international flights, especially Emirates, Qatar Airways, British Airways, and Turkish Airlines. It has resulted in public outrage, financial complications for airlines, and confusion in implementation. For example, Qatar and Etihad Airways are lending laptops to business class passengers for free, with Emirates planning to follow suit. In doing so, airlines will enable passengers continuing to utilize the long flights to do work. [Sources: CNN News, The Verge, Deutsche Welle]